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Second Life: Japanese Haiku in Translation — “some sleep”

Welcome to Second Life: Japanese Haiku in Translation, a weekly look at haiku from the source, and how it might be brought to us.

 

 

I’d borrow them and get some sleep — that scarecrow’s sleeves; nighttime frost

借りて寝ん案山子の袖や夜半の霜

karite nen kakashi no sode ya yowa no shimo

(Bashō 芭蕉)

 

This poem creates suspense by first referring to something that is not immediately identified. In the original the confusion is even greater, as the Japanese language has no true pronouns and normally doesn’t use words such as the “them” in the translation — especially in the compressed haiku style where the rule is to omit anything that can be understood from the context.

A word-for-word equivalent may be:

having-borrowed I’d sleep / scarecrow-sleeves [cutting word] / midnight-frost

The season word is frost (shimo), associated with winter.

Second Life: Japanese Haiku in Translation is presented by Dan Bornstein, a language specialist in Japanese and a writer of fiction, poetry, and essays. His work in English has appeared, among other places, in Daily Science Fiction and Star*Line, and is also included in the 2022 Dwarf Stars anthology. He lived in Japan for eight years (four in Kyoto, four in Tokyo). He regularly posts short prose and haiku poetry on his bilingual English/Hebrew website.

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Also from Fabian Bowers Classic Tradition of Haiku (Dover Thrift Editions)
    kokoro koko ni / naki na nakanu ka / hototogisu (Ihara Saikaku
    Is my mind elsewhere? / or has it simply / not sung ? OR
    Here the mind ? / empty not within? / hototogisu

  2. Yet another translation, this one by Asataro Miyamori, from a book, “Classic Haiku: An Anthology of Poems by Basho and His Followers” (Dover Publications, 2002):

    Would I might use the scarecrow’s sleeves in sleep
    As shelter from the midnight frost.

    Miyamori’s comment:

    “A humorous, fanciful verse which requires no explanation.”

    (This Dover book uses material from “An Anthology of Haiku Ancient and Modern”, first published by Maruzen Company., Ltd., Tokyo, in 1932)

  3. Taking a cue from Alan Summers, I found this, from Gabi Greve’s World Kigo Database:

    借りて寝ん案山子の袖や夜半の霜
    karite nen kakashi no sode ya yowa no shimo
    – – – – – 借りて寝む karite nemu

    to sleep I want
    to borrow the sleeve of a scarecrow –
    frost at midnight

    Written between 1688 貞亨元年 and his death, probably as a text on a painting.
    Sleeping on the road, Basho was depending on the offers of his host family or lodging.

    sode 袖 can also mean the whole robe of the scarecrow.

    This is an allusion to a waka of the 古今集 Kokinshu collection .

    きりぎりす鳴くや霜夜の狭筵に衣片敷き独りかも寝む
    kirigirisu naku ya shimo-yo no samushiro ni
    koromo kata-shiki hitori kamo nemu

    When the crickets
    cry in the frosty night,
    on the cold reed-mat,
    spreading out my robe just for one
    must I sleep alone?
    Tr. Joshua S. Mostow

    https://matsuobasho-wkd.blogspot.com/2012/06/sode-and-kosode-sleeve.html

    1. “sode 袖 can also mean the whole robe of the scarecrow.”

      This answers my question about the possibility that Basho may have been referring to the entire robe of the scarecrow.

  4. Third time lucky posting this, fingers crossed! 🙂

    re:

    借りて寝ん案山子の袖や夜半の霜

    karite nen kakashi no sode ya yowa no shimo

    Matsuo Bashō 芭蕉

    .
    The haikai verse was written between 1688 and his death
    an allusion to a waka of the 古今集 Kokinshu collection .

    きりぎりす鳴くや霜夜の狭筵に衣片敷き独りかも寝む
    kirigirisu naku ya shimo-yo no samushiro ni
    koromo kata-shiki hitori kamo nemu

    .
    袖 = sleeve of a kimono

    possibly padded sleeves of a winter kimono?

    .

    Various online translation results:

    .

    The scarecrow’s sleeve and the frost in the middle of the night

    Borrowed and slept on Yamako’s sleeves and midnight frost

    Rent and sleep Anzanko’s sleeves and midnight frost

    Sleeping in the Sleeves of a Scarecrow and the Frost of the Night

    .

    借りる to borrow; to have a loan​

    借り手 borrower

    .

    re the English ‘version’:
    .

    I’d borrow them and get some sleep — that scarecrow’s sleeves; nighttime frost

    .

    Using perceived ‘breaks’ and a correction:

    .

    I’d borrow them
    and get some sleep —
    that scarecrow’s sleeves;
    night-time frost

    .

    It feels like a convoluted translation or transliteration.

    If the author, who is known to embellish the facts as he was writing a ‘faction’ piece rather than an autobiographical or accurate representation of a travel piece, might have simply put on the scarecrow’s jacket or top (shirt). In order for any of us to put on a sleeved type of top, universally, we slide our arms “through” the sleeves.

    I guess the idea is that Matsuo Bashō either took (permanently borrowed) or temporarily borrowed, the shirt off a scarecrow’s back. Put his arms through the sleeves, wearing it normally as a top, with his arms crossed across his face to add protection against the bitter night/midnight frost as he might have been in a barn open to the elements?

    Sure you could roll up or fold the top as a bedroll for the head, but I guess he’s suggesting he put on an extra top for the frosty night as the scarecrow’s “fully clothed effect” is more for the daylight hours, so first thing pre-daybreak he could have snuck the top/kimono back onto the scarecrow for the farmer’s fields to continue to be protected by a crow scarer.

    .

    I’d personally attempt to create a new poem rather than a translation. And let readers know and keep the Japanese characters and romaji to do their own research and comparisons.

    .
    e.g.

    .

    borrowed shirt
    the scarecrow won’t miss it
    for a frosty night

    borrowed shirt
    a scarecrow won’t miss it
    for the midnight frost

    sleeves a little short
    snatching sleep overnight
    as a scarecrow

    midnight frost
    asleep in a scarecrow’s clothes
    sleeves a little short

    midnight frost
    asleep in a scarecrow’s clothes
    padded sleeves

    padded sleeves
    borrowed from a scarecrow
    midnight frost

    kind regards,
    Alan

    1. Alan’s hopeful phrase of his own ‘fingers crossed’ introduced into my thoughts on this scene that the tiny individual particles of frost are being compared to the crossed sleeves of the scarecrow’s clothing. The daytime wind which flapped the sleeves into an X shape has dropped, given way to a hard midnight (one day crossing over into the next?)frost so they now retain their X shape. So I see this poem as a comparison of the frost’s sparkly X (or double X looking like a star. And stars being of the fire element, that contrasts with the cold weather.)

  5. Glad to see this feature. Thank you. I am not a Japanese scholar, but in trying to develop some understanding from the source I often wonder to what extent a translation may be colouring the original verse, and would be grateful for elucidation.

    Question: from which character do we get the word “sleep”? I note that Reichold’s translation does not contain it, and when I toil through the Jisho dictionary I get:
    borrowing
    arm, hand, (sleeve)
    scarecrow (possessive)
    cut
    midnight (possessive) frost.

    And what are the grounds for the first person singular, please?
    Could a valid translation be:
    borrowing the scarecrow’s arms (or sleeves) / midnight frost (or ‘the frost of midnight’)

    Apologies if naive; but grateful for understanding.

    1. PS “The season word is frost (shimo), associated with winter”

      ‘scarecrow’ is also a season word — but for autumn….

    2. Keith, in reference to your question regarding the “grounds for the first person singular”, I offer the following ‘word-for-word’ (or sometimes ‘phrase-for-phrase) translation into English by Jane Reichhold:

      karite ne n / kakashi no sode ya / yowa no shimo
      borrow (speaker’s will) / scarecrow’s sleeves / midnight of frost

      It appears that Reichhold takes “ne n” to be referring to the speaker’s ‘will’, or I would say, ‘intention’, which I think is where the “I” may come from.

      [#467 on page 312, in “Basho: The Complete Haiku,” by Jane Reichhold (Kodansha International Ltd., 2008)}

  6. Blyth’s translation:

    Frost at midnight:
    I would sleep, borrowing
    The sleeves of the scarecrow.

    Barnhill’s translation:

    I’d like to sleep
    borrowing the scarecrow’s clothes—
    midnight frost

    Reichhold’s translation:

    I want to borrow
    the scarecrow’s sleeves
    midnight frost

    1. So, I’m wondering–are ‘sleeves’, in this context, a ‘synecdoche’ for ‘clothes’? Or does Basho literally mean ‘sleeves’?

  7. Wonder if the haiku could be read like this:

    borrowing some sleep
    in the scarecrow’s sleeves
    midnight frost

    1. I like the idea of “borrowing some sleep”, even though that differs a little from Basho’s original. It reminds me of how Robin D. Gill, in his translations, provides two or three, or even four, slightly different English translations of the same Japanese haiku, exploring the implications of the original haiku.

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